Nafs Lawwamah – A Khutbah

God the Exalted, in two short verses, ties the fate of humanity to “a day” and the means to salvation on that day by swearing by them both:

لَا أُقْسِمُ بِيَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ – وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

There is, by God’s oath, no doubt as to the truth of the Day of Judgment as well as the kind of soul that will find clemency there. The self-reproaching soul (نفس لوامة). As many commentators have pointed out, the term lawwamah (لوّامة) is an inflection that gives the sense of one who does such an action habitually that it comes to define that person. For example, the word for blacksmith, haddad (حدّاد) is also derived from this same form, giving the meaning that one who works with iron (hadid – حديد) to such an extent that that person becomes defined by that action. Similarly, the nafs lawwamah is that soul which calls itself into account with such frequency that God the Exalted defines that soul by this action and swears by it. Similarly, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, in his Tafsir al-Kabir, explains this term:

أنها هي النفوس الشريفة التي لا تزال تلوم نفسها وإن اجتهدت في الطاعة وعن الحسن

“It (nafs lawwamah) is that noble soul which does not refrain from rebuking itself and thus strives in obedience and doing good.”

Similarly, al-Mahalli and his student, Imam al-Suyuti, may God have mercy on them both, state something similar:

النفس اللوامة التي تلوم نفسها وإن اجتهدت في الإحسان

“The nafs lawwamah is that which criticizes itself and strives for perfection (ihsan).

It should be noted that this form of self-criticism is not criticism for the sake of criticism nor is it to be taken to extreme lengths. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم admonished his Community against inveighing against oneself to extremes:

لاَ يَقُلْ أَحَدُكُمْ خَبُثَتْ نَفْسِي ‏.‏ وَلْيَقُلْ لَقِسَتْ نَفْسِي

“None of you should say, ‘my soul has become evil or tainted’, but rather one should say my soul has become covetous.”Sahih Muslim.

At any rate, we can see a strong connection between the Day of Judgment and the self-criticizing soul. We are warned against taking this to the extreme. And lastly, I leave some words for contemplation, advice, from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم on how we might develop the habit of reproaching ourselves:

الكيسُ منْ دانَ نفسَهُ، و عملَ لمَا بعدَ الموتِ، و العاجزُ منْ أَتْبَعَ نفسَهُ هواهَا، و تمنَّى على اللهِ الأمانيَّ

“The intelligent person is the one who indicts his own soul and works for what comes after death while the imbecile is he that, having fallen under the authority of his passions, asks God for frivolities.”Tirmidhi amongst others.

Listen to the khutbah here.

Spiritual Remedies with the Drexel MSA Week 2

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A reminder on what this course is about:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of a thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا

“Passions are the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it, and should not be vilified in as much as what is being sought is permissible.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

“However, that being said, passions should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. Things being what they are, when passions are criticized, it is either because the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive (unlawful) ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Virtues and Components of the Mind:

واعلم أن النفس منها جزاء عقلي فضيلته الحكمة

“Know that part of your soul possesses the virtue for wisdom.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

ورذيلته الجهل

“And likewise possesses the capacity for ignorance.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Are you ever amazed at yourself, both in your capacity of good and bad, for intelligence and stupidity, for morality and depravity? Ibn al-Jawzi points to what God has said in Surah al-Shams:

ونفس وما سوها فألهمها فجورها وتقوها قد أفلح من زكها وخاب من دسها

“And (swearing) by the soul, which He made balanced: He inspired its depravity and its morality. The one who succeeds is the one who purifies it and the one who fails is the one who covers it up.” – Qur’an, 91: 7-10.

Interestingly enough, the verb dassa/دسّ can mean to cover up but it can also mean to poison something (دسّ السمّ لفلان).

وجزء غضبي فضيلته الحدة

“Another aspect is anger, of whose virtue is keenness.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

For “al-hiddah”, we see the meanings of keenness, sharpness, but also of fury and irascibility.

ورذيلته الجُبن

“And its depraved attribute is cowardice.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

وجزء شهواني فضيلته العفة

“And to that part which is lustful, its virtue is chastity.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

ورذيلته إطلاق الهوى

“And its depraved attribute is unbridled passion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

فالصبر عن الرذائل فضيلة للنفس, بها يحتمل الإنسان الخير والشر

“And its depraved attribute is unbridled passion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

A note on “sabr”:

Sabr is commonly translated as “patience.” And while it certainly includes that component, the verb sa-ba-ra encompasses much more than that. Like many verbs, its meaning is reflective of its circumstance: To tie, to fetter, to shackle; to put up with. It also conveys the meaning to withstand something which you have no power to remove. In the Muslim context, it also means to show and express praise (hamd) and gratitude (shukr) in trials and adversity.

وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَا مُوسَىٰ لَنْ نَصْبِرَ عَلَىٰ طَعَامٍ وَاحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنْبِتُ الْأَرْضُ مِنْ بَقْلِهَا

“And when you said, ‘Moses, we will not be tied down to just one kind of food so ask your Lord to supply to us some of what the earth produces – its green vegetables’…” – Qur’an, 2: 61.

أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ اشْتَرَوُا الضَّلَالَةَ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَالْعَذَابَ بِالْمَغْفِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا أَصْبَرَهُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ

“Those are the ones who have sold guidance for misguidance and forgiveness for punishment. How steadfastly they will endure (or shackled to) the Fire!” – Qur’an, 2: 175.

وَلَمَّا بَرَزُوا لِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا وَانْصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

“When they came out against Saul and his troops, they said, ‘Our Lord, pour down steadfastness upon us, and make our feet firm, and help us against this kafir people’.” – Qur’an, 2: 250.

This last verse shows that sabr is something real and not simply an abstract notion, as God is asked to “pour” steadfastsness on to them.

A note on “habituation”:

  • Habit – the habits we have and the habits we’d like to form.
  • What affects the formation of our habits, in both positive and negative ways? What about the impact of technology?
  • “We become habituated to what we have and eventually not so interested, and soon dissatisfied, once again.” Bruno Cayoun, Mindfulness-Integrated CBT.
  • Piety can be habituated. Sin can be habituated as well.

Other Readings

  • The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
  • Mindfulness-Integrated CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) by Bruno Cayoun.

Spiritual Remedies with the Drexel MSA Week 1

A note on texts and “tradition”:

“When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” — John Dewey, from Art As Experience.

A note on “spirituality”:

وما تقرب إليّ عبدي بشيء أحبّ إليّ مما افترضْت عليه

“My slave does not draw closer to me with anything more beloved than by what I have made obligatory upon him.” – al-Bukhari.

Raison d’être:

وهذا الكتاب موضوع لاستعمال قانون الصواب من خلال الباطن وكفّ كفّ الهوى عن المؤذى منها وعلاج ما خرج لموافقة الشهوة عن القانون الصحيح

“The purpose of this book is to put to work the law of good sense through the channels of the heart and mind so as to constrain unbridled passions from causing harm as well as to treat habitual actions of passions which contradict sound law.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Introduction:

اعلم أن جميع ما وضع في الآدمي إنما وضع لمصلحته إما لاجتلاب نفع كشهوة المطعم أو لدفع ضر كالغضب

“Know that the entirety of what God has allotted mankind is for his benefit; either the acquisition of some benefit, such as the desire for food, or the warding off of harm, such as the capacity for rage.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

 A note on “destroying the nafs:

Desire itself is not the enemy here, and thus “killing your desires,” or “killing your ego,” is not only not the goal of all of this, but most certainly unobtainable. Many of these phrases have come from Greek sources (philosophy, logic) and have crept their way into the Muslim discourse on tazkiyyah, or self-purification, without being asked to “show their papers.”

Continuing:

فإذا زادت شهوة المطعم صارت شرها فآذت

“However, if one’s appetite for food should increase unchecked it becomes gluttony, and thus harmful.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

 Similarly, Ibn al-Jawzi adds:

وإذا زاد الغضب أخرج إلى الفساد

“And if anger is increased it will manifest as perversion.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

A reminder on what this course is about:

إنما يعرف فضل الشيء بثمرته

“The excellence of thing is known by its fruit.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Part of all this is to train one’s “nafs” like one would train one’s reflexes or impulses so that they become instinctive. So much of sin is wrapped up in our impulses yet we as a faith community seldom talk about, one, the need for impulse control, and two, practical and behavioral methods by which the average Yusuf and Mariam might implement them.

One of the goals of tazkiyyah is to train your “nafs” to “feel the right action” instead of either being overwhelmed by troubling scenarios or reacting to every difficult encounter with a set of Sahih al-Bukhari.

Part One – The ‘Aql:

(يعني العقل) يترك العاجل للآلج, وبه فضل الآدمي على جميع الحيوان الذي فقده

“(The mind) taught enabled man to relinquish this hasty life for The Next (to where you will tarry). For this reason, man has superseded all of the animals, who have been deprived of having it.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

What are desires/Hawa?:

الهوى ميل الطبع إلى ما يلائمه ولا يذّم هذا المقدار إذا كان المطلوب مباحا, وإنما يذم الإفراط فيه, فمن أطلق الهوى فلأن الغالب فيه ما لا يحل أو يتأول المباح بإفراطه

“Passions/Hawa are the inclination of one’s natural character or disposition to whatever pleases it and should not be condemned in as much as what is sought is permissible. However, it should be disparaged when one is excessive in following desires. That being said, when passions are criticized altogether, it is because either the object or action is impermissible, or because people often interpret lawful means to excessive ends.” – Ibn al-Jawzi.

Stay tuned for Week Two’s notes.